Tuesday, May 24, 2022
May 24, 2022

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Everybody has a story: Singing backup in choir for Mel Torme

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In the late 1970s, I was living and working in Los Angeles, having recently finished attending college there. An acquaintance of mine, a member of a makeshift choir that sang Christmas carols at charity fundraising events, invited me to join the group one holiday season as they were short of male singers. The offer sounded intriguing and I readily accepted.

Several times in December of that year, I donned a tuxedo and joined the approximately 25 other singers in performing jazzy contemporary Christmas carol arrangements at ritzy hotels in exclusive Los Angeles locations: Bel Air, Hollywood and Beverly Hills. From the caliber of the hotels in which we sang and the fancy clothes worn by the attendees at these bashes, I knew I was rubbing elbows with the upper crust of Los Angeles society. It was quite exciting!

Our group must have been pretty good because we were invited to do a gig in Palm Springs. For that performance, our choir rode a charter bus from Los Angeles out into the desert, put on our formal wear and presented a holiday concert for some of the wealthy elite who lived there.

One of the songs in our repertoire was Mel Torme’s famous “Christmas Song,” the one that begins, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” I knew we would be singing that as part of our Palm Springs performance, but I didn’t know that Mel Torme himself would be in the audience.

Our director spotted him and invited him to come up and sing with us. Mr. Torme said he would be delighted, came up to the stage and took the microphone.

With Mel Torme in the lead and our choir accompanying him, we sang his beloved holiday song. There are no recordings of that performance, or any other proof that I was part of that experience, but for three glorious minutes I was a backup singer for the renowned Mel Torme.

Unfortunately, I did not actually get to meet Mr. Torme or even shake his hand. He left soon after the show was over. From time to time since then, I have played the party game “Two Truths and a Lie” at social gatherings. I have always included this event as one of my “truths.” Invariably, my opponents guess that this story is my “lie.”

I revel in being able to contradict them, describe my experience and relive my chance encounter with the famous crooner Mel Torme.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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